May 29, 2014 STATEMENT — LIRS Applauds Introduction of the Accountability in Immigration Detention Act

For Immediate Release
Press Contact: Miji Bell
mbell@lirs.org, 410-230-2841

Washington, DC May 29, 2014– Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the national organization established by Lutheran churches in the United States to serve uprooted people, welcomes Representatives Adam Smith’s (D-WA) introduction of the Accountability in Immigration Detention Act (H.R. 4620), which would expand the use of community-based alternatives to detention among other protections for migrants in detention. Representatives Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Bill Foster (D-IL), Rick Larsen (D-WA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Filemon Vela (D-TX) are also cosponsors of this bill.

“As both Congress and the Administration consider immigration reform and the state of immigration enforcement, the Accountability in Immigration Detention Act offers an excellent proposal that shows how the United States can uphold its humanitarian obligations while still ensuring compliance with immigration law,” said LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke. “This vision of community-based alternatives to detention mirrors the model LIRS has embraced and is piloting with twenty service partners across the nation.”

 The United States detains 34,000 migrants including asylum seekers, refugees, and torture survivors every day in jails or jail-like settings. LIRS has long urged the United States to avoid using immigration detention unless it is determined to be necessary based on individualized assessments.

 The Accountability in Immigration Detention Act would:

  • Establish minimum detention center standards, including ones that would comply with the Prison Rape Elimination Act and ensure all detained migrants have access to the successful Legal Orientation Program.
  • Require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish community-based alternatives to detention that incorporate case management, particularly for vulnerable populations. The bill would also allow agreements with community-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
  • Prevent the use of custodial alternatives to detention when release on bond is determined to be sufficient.
  • Eliminate the detention bed quota to allow DHS to determine their own detention needs.
  • Increase oversight of detention facilities.

Alternatives to Detention

Alternatives to Detention (ATDs) not only provide a more humane and just alternative to detention, they are also a highly cost-effective approach for ensuring that individuals appear at immigration proceedings. There are a variety of options that ICE can utilize to encourage compliance with immigration court proceedings. Research has shown that ATDs are highly effective and yield an average 91% appearance rate for hearings and court proceedings.  Varying forms of supervision and monitoring range in cost from as low as $0.17 to $17 a day per individual. There are a range of ATD options available including constructive custody arrangements, telephonic reporting, bond, and other forms of supervision.  Compared to the billions spent each year on detention operations, ATDs represent a smarter, cheaper, and more humane way to ensure compliance with U.S. immigration laws. ATDs are a particularly appropriate alternative for vulnerable migrants such as asylum seekers, torture survivors, the elderly, individuals with medical and mental health needs, and other vulnerable groups.

Community-based Alternatives

LIRS further supports increasing the use of community-based alternatives to detention for migrants.  Community-based models operated by nonprofit organizations that utilize case management have several benefits for the migrants and community.  Community-based alternatives result in higher rates of compliance and appearance, improved integration outcomes and improved health and welfare – all at a reduced cost to the government.  LIRS manages one such community-based program, Community Support, a national model to test the effectiveness of community-based alternatives to detention.

Detention Bed Quota

Under current law, DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is required to maintain 34,000 detention beds for immigration purposes every day. Since its establishment in 2007, this requirement has led to increased arbitrary detention of migrants every year. In Fiscal Year 2012 ICE detained 478,000 individuals, the highest number in U.S. history. H.R. 4620 eliminates this arbitrary detention requirement and instead allows DHS to determine its own detention needs. This would allow DHS to increase efficiency by focusing on detaining only those individuals for whom it determines detention is necessary and shift its resources to community-based and other alternatives to detention for others. This would not only produce savings to U.S. taxpayers but would also greatly reduce the suffering and harm caused by unnecessary detention to our families, communities and congregations.

Started by Lutheran congregations in 1939, LIRS walks with migrants and refugees through ministries of service and justice, transforming U.S. communities by ensuring that newcomers are not only self-sufficient but also become connected and contributing members of their adopted communities in the United States. Working with and through over 60 partners across the country, LIRS resettles refugees, reunites children with their families or provides loving homes for them, conducts policy advocacy, and pursues humanitarian alternatives to the immigration detention system. For more information, please visit www.lirs.org.

If you have any questions about this statement, please feel free to contact Liz Sweet, LIRS Director for Access to Justice at (410) 230-2728 or via email at lsweet@lirs.org.

An issue brief on LIRS’ Community Support program may be read here http://lirs.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/ISSUE-BRIEF-LIRS-Alternatives-to-Detention-Project-Overview.pdf

The February 11, 2014 LIRS statement on the Hearing: “Asylum Fraud: Abusing America’s Compassion?” may be read here http://lirs.org/press-inquiries/press-room/february-11-2014-statement-lirs-statement-for-hearing-asylum-fraud-abusing-americas-compassion/

The January 27, 2014 LIRS statement applauding the Immigrant Detainee Legal Rights Act may be read here http://lirs.org/press-inquiries/press-room/january-27-2014-statement-lirs-applauds-introduction-of-the-immigrant-detainee-legal-rights-act/

The LIRS report Unlocking Liberty: A Way Forward For U.S. Immigration Detention Policy may be read here http://lirs.org/alternatives-to-detention/